DOUG ROSS: Valpo Spring began with School Board action

2014-02-14T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Valpo Spring began with School Board actionBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

The weather didn't reflect it, but Valparaiso had its own Arab Spring moment last weekend.

Shut down by the Valparaiso School Board, which didn't want to hear residents' concerns about a plan to send Chinese students to Valparaiso High School, the resident uprising took to social media to complain.

Those tweets, posts and other messages often contained inaccurate information, but that can happen when the official sources shut people out.

Here's how the story played out. Lumenus USA, a local company, already had received the School Board's blessing to place up to 30 Chinese students in the 2015 graduating class to get those students better acclimated to American culture even as they hone their English skills. The students then likely would enter Valparaiso University.

It was a good plan. It should be revisited after a new school superintendent is hired.

The school system would be paid full tuition by Lumenus and the Chinese students would be eligible to participate in all school activities except sports — and that was because the Indiana High School Athletic Association had not yet given its approval.

The Chinese students would benefit from interaction with Americans, and the Valparaiso residents would benefit from the exposure to the foreign students.

After the School Board approved the plan, with little notice, the public had many questions about it — especially about crowding at the school, the effect on their children's class ranking and access to advanced placement tests.

So students and adults attended the Feb. 6 School Board workshop to learn more and to express their concerns and fears, many of which could have been quelled with a frank recitation of the facts.

But the board didn't want to listen to them. Board President Mark Maassel said only comments about the superintendent selection would be accepted at last week's meeting. Comments about the Lumenus contract would have to wait until Feb. 20, he said.

That was the wrong thing to say. He effectively shut down members of the public who wanted to voice their concerns through the proper channels.

Complicating the matter is that the Valparaiso School Board members are appointed, not elected, and that Mayor Jon Costas owns an 11 percent stake in Lumenus. Costas doesn't appoint members, but his political influence on the City Council must be noted.

If the board members were elected, perhaps they would more easily recognize they are accountable to the public, rather than the City Council or Center Township Advisory Board members who appoint them.

Lumenus withdrew its proposal Monday morning following a weekend firestorm on social media.

If the School Board had listened, the residents wouldn't have had to throw a social media tantrum.

The Chinese students won't be learning at VHS, unfortunately, but it could still become a teachable moment for the School Board. Listen to the public before making decisions, and respect the public's concerns.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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